North American English

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North American English
Region Northern America (United States, Canada)
Dialects American English, Canadian English and their subdivisions
Latin (English alphabet)
Unified English Braille [1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
IETF en-021

North American English (NAmE, NAE) is the most generalized variety of the English language as spoken in the United States and Canada. [2] Because of their related histories and cultures [3] and the similarities between the pronunciation, vocabulary, and accent of American English and Canadian English, the two spoken varieties are often grouped together under a single category. [4] [5] Due to historical and cultural factors, Canadian English and American English retain numerous distinctions from each other, with the differences being most noticeable in the two languages' written forms. Canadian spellings are primarily based on British usage as a result of Canada's longer-standing connections with the United Kingdom. Canadians are generally tolerant of both British and American spellings, with British spellings being favored in more formal settings and in Canadian print media. [6] Spellings in American English have been highly influenced by lexicographers like Noah Webster, who sought to create a standardized form of English that was independent of British English. [7] Despite these differences, the dialects of both Canada and the United States are similar. The United Empire Loyalists who fled the American Revolution (1765–1783) have had a large influence on Canadian English from its early roots. [8]

In sociolinguistics, a variety, also called a lect, is a specific form of a language or language cluster. This may include languages, dialects, registers, styles, or other forms of language, as well as a standard variety. The use of the word "variety" to refer to the different forms avoids the use of the term language, which many people associate only with the standard language, and the term dialect, which is often associated with non-standard varieties thought of as less prestigious or "correct" than the standard. Linguists speak of both standard and non-standard (vernacular) varieties. "Lect" avoids the problem in ambiguous cases of deciding whether two varieties are distinct languages or dialects of a single language.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.


Some terms in North American English are used almost exclusively in Canada and the United States (for example, the terms diaper and gasoline are widely used instead of nappy and petrol ). Although many English speakers from outside North America regard such terms as distinct Americanisms, they are often just as common in Canada, mainly due to the effects of heavy cross-border trade and cultural penetration by the American mass media. [9] The list of divergent words becomes longer if considering regional Canadian dialects, especially as spoken in the Atlantic provinces and parts of Vancouver Island where significant pockets of British culture still remain.

Diaper type of underwear that allows one to defecate or urinate, without the use of a toilet

A diaper or a nappy is a type of underwear that allows the wearer to defecate or urinate without the use of a toilet, by absorbing or containing waste products to prevent soiling of outer clothing or the external environment. When diapers become soiled, they require changing, generally by a second person such as a parent or caregiver. Failure to change a diaper on a sufficiently regular basis can result in skin problems around the area covered by the diaper.

Gasoline Transparent, petroleum-derived liquid that is used primarily as a fuel

Gasoline, petrol or gas is a colorless petroleum-derived flammable liquid that is used primarily as a fuel in spark-ignited internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. On average, a 42-U.S.-gallon (160-liter) barrel of crude oil yields about 19 U.S. gallons of gasoline after processing in an oil refinery, though this varies based on the crude oil assay.

American English Set of dialects of the English language spoken in the United States

American English, sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. It is considered one of the most influential dialects of English globally, including on other varieties of English.

There are a considerable number of different accents within the regions of both the United States and Canada, originally deriving from the accents prevalent in different English, Scottish and Irish regions of the British Isles and corresponding to settlement patterns of these peoples in the colonies. These were developed and built upon as new waves of immigration, and migration across the North American continent, brought new accents and dialects to new areas, and as these ways of speaking merged and assimilated with the population. It is claimed that despite the centuries of linguistic changes there is still a resemblance between the English East Anglia accents which would have been used by early English settlers in New England (including the Pilgrims), and modern Northeastern United States accents.[ clarification needed ] [10] Similarly, the accents of Newfoundland have some similarities to the accents of Scotland and Ireland.

North American English regional phonology is the study of variations in the pronunciation of spoken North American English —what are commonly known simply as "regional accents". Though studies of regional dialects can be based on multiple characteristics, often including characteristics that are phonemic, phonetic, lexical (vocabulary-based), and syntactic (grammar-based), this article focuses only on the former two items. North American English includes American English, which has several highly developed and distinct regional varieties, along with the closely related Canadian English, which is more homogeneous geographically. American English and Canadian English have more in common with each other than with varieties of English outside North America.

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Canada's southern border with the United States, stretching some 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi), is the world's longest bi-national land border. Its capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. As a whole, Canada is sparsely populated, the majority of its land area being dominated by forest and tundra. Consequently, its population is highly urbanized, with over 80 percent of its inhabitants concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, with 70% of citizens residing within 100 kilometres (62 mi) of the southern border. Canada's climate varies widely across its vast area, ranging from arctic weather in the north, to hot summers in the southern regions, with four distinct seasons.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Major dialects

This map shows English dialect regions of North America, as defined by Labov et al.'s The Atlas of North American English. Undesignated regions (in white, orange, and green) represent areas with characteristics that are inconsistent from speaker to speaker, or poorly studied due to being in a state of transition. Some undesignated areas fall under the classification of "General American," an umbrella variety widely spoken throughout the United States, regardless of location. North American English dialect regions.jpg
This map shows English dialect regions of North America, as defined by Labov et al.'s The Atlas of North American English . Undesignated regions (in white, orange, and green) represent areas with characteristics that are inconsistent from speaker to speaker, or poorly studied due to being in a state of transition. Some undesignated areas fall under the classification of "General American," an umbrella variety widely spoken throughout the United States, regardless of location.

The following numerical list, corresponding to the map, accounts only for major dialect areas of modern North America that can be identified by geographic location; therefore, it does not represent speakers of non-geographically based (ethnic, social, etc.) varieties, such as General American, African-American English, Chicano English, etc.

General American is the umbrella variety of American English—the continuum of accents—spoken by a majority of Americans and popularly perceived, among Americans, as lacking any distinctly regional, ethnic, or socioeconomic characteristics. Americans with high education, or from the North Midland, Western New England, and Western regions of the country, are the most likely to be perceived as having "General American" accents. The precise definition and usefulness of the term continues to be debated, and the scholars who use it today admittedly do so as a convenient basis for comparison rather than for exactness. Some scholars, despite controversy, prefer the term Standard American English.

African-American English (AAE), also known as Black English in American linguistics, is the set of English dialects primarily spoken by most black people in the United States; most commonly, it refers to a dialect continuum ranging from African-American Vernacular English to a more standard English. African-American English shows variation such as in vernacular versus standard forms, rural versus urban characteristics, features specific to singular cities or regions only, and other sociolinguistic criteria. There has also been a significant body of African-American literature and oral tradition for centuries.

Chicano English or Mexican-American English, is a dialect of American English spoken primarily by Mexican Americans, particularly in the Southwestern United States, ranging from Texas to California but also apparent in Chicago. Chicano English is sometimes mistakenly conflated with Spanglish, which is a grammatically simplified mixing of Spanish and English; however, Chicano English is a fully formed and native dialect of English, not a "learner English" or interlanguage. It is even the native dialect of some speakers who know little to no Spanish.

  1. Standard Canadian English
  2. Western American English
  3. North-Central American ("Upper Midwest") English
  4. Inland Northern American English
  5. Midland American English
  6. Southern American English
    a. Texan English
    b. Inland Southern American ("Appalachian") English
  7. Western Pennsylvania ("Pittsburgh") English
  8. Mid-Atlantic American ("Philadelphia" and "Baltimore") English
  9. New York City English
  10. Southwestern New England English
  11. Southeastern New England ("Rhode Island") English
  12. Northwestern New England ("Vermont") English
  13. Northeastern New England ("Boston" and "Maine") English
  14. Atlantic Canadian English

Below, twelve major North American dialects are defined by particular accent characteristics. (Unmentioned below, Standard Canadian English is differentiated from Western U.S. English primarily by the Canadian Vowel Shift):

Standard Canadian English dialect of English

Standard Canadian English is the greatly homogeneous variety of Canadian English spoken particularly all across central and western Canada, as well as throughout Canada among urban middle-class speakers from English-speaking families, excluding the regional dialects of Atlantic Canadian English. English mostly has a uniform phonology and very little diversity of dialects in Canada compared with the neighbouring English of the United States. The Standard Canadian English dialect region is defined by the cot–caught merger to [ɒ](listen) and an accompanying chain shift of vowel sounds, called the Canadian Shift. A subset of this dialect geographically at its central core, excluding British Columbia to the west and everything east of Montreal, has been called Inland Canadian English, and is further defined by both of the phenomena known as "Canadian raising", the production of and with back starting points in the mouth, and the production of with a front starting point and very little glide.

Western American English Dialect of American English

Western American English is a variety of American English that largely unites the entire western half of the United States as a single dialect region, including the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. It also generally encompasses Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, some of whose speakers are classified additionally under Pacific Northwest English.

The Canadian Shift is a chain shift of vowel sounds found primarily in Canadian English, but also possibly in some other dialects. It was first described by Clarke, Elms and Youssef in 1995, based on impressionistic analysis. The shift is structurally identical to the movement of front vowels in the California Shift of California English; whether this a coincidence or not is not yet clear.

DialectMost populous
urban center
// fronting // fronting // fronting /ɑːr/ fronting /æ/ split system cot–caught merger pin–pen merger
African American maybenonononotransitionalyes [11]
Atlantic Canadian Halifaxsomewhatnoyesyesnoyesno
Inland Northern American Chicagonononovariablenonono
Mid-Atlantic American Philadelphiayesyesyesnoyesnono
Midland American Indianapolisyesyesyesnonotransitionaltransitional
New York City New York Cityyes [12] no [12] no [12] noyesnono
Northern New England Bostonnononoyesnoyesno
North-Central American Minneapolisnononononoyesno
Southern American Houstonyesyesyesnonotransitionalyes [13]
Western American


Standard Canadian

Los Angeles,


Western Pennsylvania Pittsburghyesyesyesnonoyestransitional

See also

The English language was first introduced to the Americas by British colonization, beginning in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The language also spread to numerous other parts of the world as a result of British trade and colonisation and the spread of the former British Empire, which, by 1921, included about 470–570 million people, about a quarter of the world's population. Written forms of British and American English as found in newspapers and textbooks vary little in their essential features, with only occasional noticeable differences.

Canadian English is the set of varieties of the English language native to Canada. According to the 2011 census, English was the first language of approximately 19 million Canadians, or 57% of the population; the remainder of the population were native speakers of Canadian French (22%) or other languages. A larger number, 28 million people, reported using English as their dominant language. 82% of Canadians outside the province of Quebec reported speaking English natively, but within Quebec the figure was just 7.7% as most of its residents are native speakers of Quebec French.

Spoken English shows great variation across regions where it is the predominant language. This article provides an overview of the numerous identifiable variations in pronunciation; such distinctions usually derive from the phonetic inventory of local dialects, as well as from broader differences in the Standard English of different primary-speaking populations.

Related Research Articles

The phonology of the open back vowels of the English language has undergone changes both overall and with regional variations, through Old and Middle English to the present. The sounds heard in modern English were significantly influenced by the Great Vowel Shift, as well as more recent developments such as the cot–caught merger.

Southern American English or Southern U.S. English is a regional dialect or collection of dialects of American English spoken throughout the Southern United States, though increasingly in more rural areas and primarily by White Southerners. The dialect is commonly known in the United States simply as Southern, while formal, much more recent terms within American linguistics include Southern White Vernacular English and Rural White Southern English.

Eastern New England English, historically known as the Yankee dialect since at least the nineteenth century, is the traditional regional dialect of Maine, New Hampshire, and the eastern half of Massachusetts. Features of this variety once spanned an even larger dialect area of New England, for example, including the eastern half of Vermont as recently as the mid-twentieth century. Studies vary as to whether the unique dialect of Rhode Island falls within the Eastern New England dialect region.

In English, many vowel shifts only affect vowels followed by in rhotic dialects, or vowels that were historically followed by an that has since been elided in non-rhotic dialects. Most of them involve merging of vowel distinctions, so that fewer vowel phonemes occur before than in other positions in a word.

The cotcaught merger is a phonemic merger, occurring in some dialects of the English language, between the phonemes that are conventionally represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet with ⟨ɔː⟩ or ⟨ɔ⟩ and ⟨ɒ⟩. In varieties in which the merger has taken place, including a few in the British Isles and many in North America, what were historically two separate phonemes have fallen together into a single sound, so that caught and cot, as well as several other pairs of words, are pronounced identically.

New England English Variety of American English

New England English collectively refers to the various distinct dialects and varieties of American English originating in the New England area. Most of eastern and central New England once spoke the "Yankee dialect", and many of those accent features still remain in eastern New England, such as "R-dropping". The 2006 Atlas of North American English (ANAE) argues that there is a division between Northern New England English and Southern New England English, especially on the basis of the cot–caught merger and fronting. The ANAE also categorizes the strongest differentiated New England accents into four combinations of the above dichotomies, simply defined as follows:

Atlantic Canadian English Dialects of Canadian English

Atlantic Canadian English is a class of Canadian English dialects spoken in the Atlantic provinces of Canada and is notably distinct from Standard Canadian English. Atlantic Canadian English comprises Canadian Maritime English and Newfoundland English. It is mostly influenced by British and Irish English, Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and some Acadian French. Atlantic Canada is the Easternmost region of Canada, comprising four provinces located on the Atlantic coast - the three Maritime provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador. The population of the Atlantic Provinces in 2016 was about 2,300,000 on a land area of approximately half a million square kilometres, with Nova Scotia being the most populous province, and its capital, Halifax, the most populous city.

Midland American English Variety of English spoken in the United States

Midland American English is a regional dialect or super-dialect of American English, geographically lying between the traditionally-defined Northern and Southern United States. The boundaries of Midland American English are not entirely clear, being revised and reduced by linguists due to definitional changes and several Midland sub-regions undergoing rapid and diverging pronunciation shifts since the early-middle twentieth century onwards.

Northern American English or Northern U.S. English is a class of distinct American English dialects, spoken by predominantly white Americans, best documented in the greater metropolitan areas of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, Western and Central New York, Northern Illinois, Northern Ohio, Eastern South Dakota, and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, plus some northern areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and even the Canadian region of Southern Ontario. The North as a super-dialect region is considered, by the 2006 Atlas of North American English, at its core, to consist of the dialects of the Inland North and Southern New England.

Despite popular stereotypes in the media that there is a singular New Jersey accent, there are in fact several distinct accents native to the U.S. state of New Jersey, none being confined only to New Jersey. Therefore, the term New Jersey English is diverse and may refer to any of these dialects of American English, or even intermediate varieties that blend features of these multiple dialects.

Rhoticity in English is the pronunciation of the historical rhotic consonant by speakers of English. It is one of the most prominent distinctions by which varieties of English can be classified. The historical English sound is preserved in all pronunciation contexts in the "rhotic varieties" of English, which primarily include the English dialects of Scotland, Ireland, and most of the United States and Canada. However, the historical is not pronounced except before vowels in "non-rhotic varieties", which include most of the dialects of modern England, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and some parts of the southern and eastern—particularly coastal northeastern—United States.

Mid-Atlantic American English, Middle Atlantic American English, or Delaware Valley English is a class of American English, considered by The Atlas of North American English to be a single dialect, spoken in the southern Mid-Atlantic states of the United States.

Western New England English refers to the varieties of New England English native to Vermont, Connecticut, and the western half of Massachusetts; New York State's Hudson Valley also aligns to this classification. Sound patterns historically associated with Western New England English include the features of rhoticity, the horse–hoarse merger, and the father–bother merger, none of which are features traditionally shared in neighboring Eastern New England English. The status of the cot–caught merger in Western New England is inconsistent, being complete in the north of this dialect region (Vermont), but incomplete or absent in the south, with a "cot–caught approximation" in the middle area.

In the sociolinguistics of the English language, raising or short-a raising is a phenomenon in most American and many Canadian English accents, by which the "short a" vowel, the North American TRAP/BATH vowel, is pronounced with a raising of the tongue. Many forms of raising are specifically tensing: occurring only in certain words or environments, with a combination of greater raising, lengthening, and gliding than in other environments. The realization of this "tense" varies from to to to, and is greatly dependent on the speaker's particular dialect. A common realization is [eə](listen), a transcription that will be used throughout this article to represent the tensed vowel. The most common context for tensing throughout North American English, regardless of dialect, is when this vowel appears before a nasal consonant.


  1. "Unified English Braille (UEB)". Braille Authority of North America (BANA). 2 November 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
  2. Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms
  3. Chambers, J.K. (1998). "Canadian English: 250 Years in the Making". The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). p. xi.
  4. 1 2 Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006)
  5. Trudgill, Peter & Jean Hannah. (2002). International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English, 4th. London: Arnold. ISBN   0-340-80834-9 .
  6. Patti Tasko. (2004). The Canadian Press Stylebook: A Guide for Writers and Editors, 13th. Toronto: The Canadian Press. ISBN   0-920009-32-8, p. 308.
  7. "Noah Webster's Spelling Reform," (2011) Merriam-Webster Online
  8. M.H. Scargill. (1957). "Sources of Canadian English", The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 56.4, pp. 610-614.
  9. John Woitkowitz (2012). "Arctic Sovereignty and the Cold War: Asymmetry, Interdependence, and Ambiguity" . Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  10. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America , David Hackett Fischer, 1989.
  11. Labov (1972), p. 19.
  12. 1 2 3 Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006) , p. 166
  13. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006) , p. 137